Rather appropriately released on Valentine’s Day, Tennis – a.k.a. Denver-based husband and wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley – bring us their second record Young And Old just over a year after the pair released their debut Cape Dory in January 2011. A series of songs written about their shared experience sailing around the Atlantic, Cape Dory was an album wrapped in whimsy and nostalgia, a romantic record of their days before married life. On their 10-track follow up that romanticism remains intact, even down to the album’s title – based upon Romantic poet John Keats’ work of the same name.
Awash with early ’60s syths and woozy odes to modern dream pop, Tennis inevitably draw parallels with the likes of Beach House, Summer Camp and Best Coast. Low key yet upbeat, each hum of Moore’s electric organ is wrapped in nostalgia, while her rhyming lyrics – such as ‘Travelling’’s “This must be rare ‘cos nothing else could compare, not that I’m aware of” – add further depth to the innocent poeticism present throughout the record. With its familiar melodies and vintage Beach Boys tones the album’s formula is simple yet slightly saccharine, particularly during tracks such as ‘Robin’ and ‘Take Me To Heaven’. Likewise each song is concise, all of them resting around the three-minute mark, a pattern that allows each song to slowly take shape before sinking into the next. Yet for all its passion, there’s no element of surprise during Young And Old. That’s not to say, however, that it’s a disappointment.
Album opener ‘It All Feels The Same’ is a perfect way for Tennis to submerge their listeners into the cool ripples of their lo-fi American surf-pop. Beginning with the words “Took a train to, took a train to get to you/Finally got there and I couldn’t find you anywhere”, Tennis carry their theme of travel and journeying through into album number two. While these lyrics are not exactly profound, in their own context they feel appropriate in their simple delivery, particularly when presented against the music’s soft backing tones. After ‘It All Feels The Same”s climatic ending, the record moves deftly into ‘Origins’, the record’s first single. It’s clear to see why it was selected as Young And Old’s introduction: with Moore’s arpeggioed verses and Riley’s reverberating guitar, ‘Origins’ is a euphoric clash of varying tempos and multiple instruments.
Fellow Fat Possum labelmates The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney was chosen as producer, for his own experience with self-producing, and he has successfully captured the home recorded, un-slick techniques that this record demands. This perfect pairing is most evident in tracks such as ‘High Road’ – where Moore mournfully notes: “Paradise is all around, but happiness is never found” – and ‘Dreaming’, a song that is as fanciful and hazy as its title suggests. Carney also crafts the band’s preference for flooding their melodies and vocals to the fore, unlike many of their musical counterparts who tend to wash their vocals with overpowering shoegaze synths and distorting feedback fuzz. Here, the vocals are not as densely layered as they were in previous tracks such as ‘Marathon’, Carney allowing Moore’s delicate, two-line vocal harmonies to shine through alone.
If there’s a negative to note, it’s that occasionally some songs slide a little too easily into one another, rendering it difficult to differentiate between them. As such there are moments where the momentum lags somewhat, particularly during third track ‘My Better Self’ with its slightly monotonous melody. Despite the permeating drumbeats at the song’s start, it plods along at one pace, with a minimal guitar line and barely audible organ melodies. While it’s not a bad song, compared with some of Young And Old’s other offerings – such as the ’80s infused ‘Petition’ with its high, distorted chorus, and the upbeat joviality and doo wop of ‘Travelling’ – it certainly lacks the lifting and lilting movement that the majority of the album exudes.
Of the ever-expanding wave of surf-pop bands to appear over the last few years, simply put: Beach House, with their moodier, more progressive take on the genre, do it best. Yet there’s no denying that Tennis have still come up with a joyful album, one replete with a lusciously summery vibe and a smattering of exceptional songs. With its romanticism intact, Young And Old’s lyrics echo the very promise of its title: it still has its youthful, innocent touch, yet also hints at its dedication to their musical past. During Tennis’ relatively short career the duo have clearly achieved much and crafted some sublime songs, yet you can’t escape the sense that with a little more variety their releases would go even further, both on record and in a live setting.